Friday, 7 June 2013

Report from Death Café in Hampstead, London by Josefine Speyer

20 May 2013, Upstairs at Café Rouge
This was the second time I had hosted a Death Café at Café Rouge in Hampstead. The room is a lovely venue, the ambience is just right for this event. Three huge tall windows with white wooden shutters, one  of these being French doors leading out onto a narrow roof terrace along the front of the building. It is a grand, bohemian style room with mirrors and posters and a solid wooden floor and high ceilings. It is rather private and fairly quiet, away from the hubbub of the café below, but it is not closed off.
Fifteen people had booked to attend, three cancelled and two others were not able to come on the day.  So it was that 11 of us gathered around one long narrow table, set along the length of the room, a rather convivial set up, as in a grand house.
Three people had attended several other Death Cafes, but for everyone else this was the first time.  Instead of tea and cake the food was ice cream and wine, salad, delicious selection of starters, lemon pressé, cappucchino or soup.
I introduced myself and the concept of Death Café and invited everyone to introduce themselves and what had brought them here. There was a wide range of reasons, mostly people expressed a wish to be able to discuss the topic of death freely, to voice one’s own concerns as well as hearing from others.  Amongst the 10 guests there was only one man. 
Several people had been bereaved, some recently. One person spoke about the impending death of a sister, who had asked to have her obituary written. The writing of the obituary proved to be a challenge, which required a lot of thought and reflection on her life, and brought about the awareness of what was still unsaid: a great deal of appreciation and admiration. This led to a discussion on how we may be holding back from people close to us. Someone came up with the thought of holding a funeral before one has died to hear what people have to say. This also led to more thoughts on how we want to live now or in the future.
A topic mentioned but not taken further was that finally making a Will was a difficult thing to do, a coming to terms with age, and there was a relief to be had in doing it. It was also good knowing that one can amend the Will in the future and make changes. Some thought they would like to attend a workshop to help them create a Living Will. Several thought it was a good idea to do, but not so easy to get down to actually doing it. One member has recently run a workshop on this topic and there was a plan that she and I might link up and host one together. I have held many workshops on this and similar topics in the past. 
Having started a conversation at Death Cafe might perhaps make the attending a workshop less daunting. We shared many stories of experiences with preparing for dying besides the experience of actual death and of funerals.
Halfway through the evening I invited everyone to consider what they felt would constitute the ideal death for them and asked them to describe the setting and the qualities of this ideal death.  People spoke in pairs and afterwards we had a round of feedback. The atmosphere in the room changed. It brought the whole theme more into focus on a personal and an emotional level. One person cried and was visibly upset, but quite contained. Some very moving things were shared. 
It was a privilege to be there and I am sure I was not the only one who felt this was a spiritual moment when life really comes into focus. Thank you everyone for coming and for your contribution to make it the special evening it was.
In a closing round, after some people had rushed off earlier, one person expressed the sense that only positive stories were acceptable and perhaps had a sense that the fears about dying did not get an adequate hearing. Another said in her feedback that she had hoped there would have been a chance to speak in a smaller circle about bereavement. So there were some disappointments.
Feedback summary (5/10 returned)
Where did you hear about this event? 
  the press - not sure where,
  Dying Matters website,
  via friend,
  via Josefine.

What age are you?   54, 65, 65, 59, 57. (average age is 60)
Average total age: Approx.56.

What is your profession? 
• retired – worked with older people before,
• unemployed/CAB volunteer,
• gilder artist,
 artist & singer.
5 females (four women and one man had to rush off without leaving feedback ) 

Overall, how would you rate this event? (10 = excellent, 1 =poor):  
10, 10, 10, 8, 6.  Average:  8.8

Please comment on your experience of this event:
• Wonderfully facilitated. Very open and inspiring sharing of feelings around death and dying.
• Got sleepy – airless room- bit of noises, but a cohesive & sensitive holding from Josefine initially, but this spread amongst us all… a glad & honest exposure – safely led.
• I felt safe and accepted.
• Group well held and lots of information re aspects of death
• A very warm feeling of connection with people here but in a way feeling I was repressing quite a lot of a dual reality& experiences from my life. I felt it was important to concentrate on the positive here.

Anything about the event which particularly stood out for you:
• The depth of expression achieved in such a short space of time.
• GRATITUDE…. For one person’s glimpse of the couple, being in the moment and generous with their openness…undistracted, calm, going with the flow.
Was there any aspect of the event you were dissatisfied with or felt uncomfortable about and wished it had been different in some way, and how?
• Could have done with jugs of water & glasses on the table.
• I am not sure it was what I was looking for.. I felt that death was being talked about as an event. At the moment it is a very close experience for me/bereavement. I would have liked to have looked at the personal experience of people - at the feellings – and not so much the stories. Maybe it is too recent for me, although lots of the issues relevant. It may first be that I am not ready to open up in a big group about what I am experiencing.
• A workshop on writing will and legalising it and implementing

If someone told you they were thinking of attending a Death Café, what would you say to them?
• Try it.
• Go for it! You will find it liberating.
  Wonderful, hope it is a good experience.
• Do this often and be grateful for it – will help all of us, in all of life.
• Go. I will recommend it.

Josefine Speyer is the co-founder of the Natural Death Centre. Her next Death Cafes are on Monday 17 June and Monday 29 July 2013. More details here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say your piece.